ALAMEDA – Michael Crabtree was as clutch as they come during three seasons with the Raiders, often Derek Carr’s go-to guy even with Amari Cooper in the pattern.
He was vital to the Raiders' rise in 2015 and 2016, with many signature moments to his credit. He caught the do-or-die 2-point conversion to beat New Orleans. He had the “slice of blue” touchdown catch against the Chargers. He had three touchdowns in Baltimore, including a fourth-quarter catch that turned tides there.
He won another dramatic contest in 2017 as well, securing a touchdown catch on an untimed down to beat Kansas City. That was a rare highlight in a season that went awry for the entire team, Crabtree included. His chain-snatching rematch with Aqib Talib late that year wasn’t a great look, and getting four targets and reduced snaps over the last two games suggested the end was near.
Former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon reported on a CBS broadcast late in the year that team officials had informed him the wide receiver was taking himself out of games. Crabtree wasn’t thrilled with his role at times, creating some tension with Carr that the quarterback addressed in an offseason interview with The Athletic.
Crabtree was eventually cut just before free agency in what was essentially a straight swap for Jordy Nelson, albeit in separate transactions with similar costs.
Crabtree quickly signed with the Ravens, setting up what might be considered a revenge game Sunday in Baltimore.
There is one big problem with that narrative: Crabtree’s willingness to play along. He shot down having any extra motivation against his old team talking to Baltimore reporters on Wednesday.
“We’re on the end of the stretch right here, so every game counts for us,” Crabtree said. “The next game is the Raiders.”
Crabtree was asked if there was any special meaning playing the Silver and Black.
“Nope,” Crabtree said. “I just played football.”
Crabtree was never one to air dirty laundry in the press, but he might enjoy a big statistical day against his old squad.
Carr was complimentary of his former target, whom he routinely called quarterback friendly, despite some periods of friction between him and Crabtree.
“I love Crab, oh my goodness. He helped me so much talking scheme, talking the mindset, the leadership, all of those things,” Carr said. “I remember standing around the corner in the hallway begging him not to leave. I promise I’ll throw you the ball, I said. He had two or three of his best, statistically, years of his career. That means a lot to me. I told him ‘I’ll throw it to you’ and knowing him, he probably wanted it more but that’s Crab.
“He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around. I think the world of him. I miss him, I do. I wish him the best. I always keep up on my phone making sure he’s doing well and all that. I really do wish the best for him and his family.”
Crabtree hasn’t reached pre-2017 heights in Baltimore, with 42 catches for 479 yards and just two touchdowns. He has only caught 53.8 percent of his targets, and hasn’t been the red-zone focus he was in Oakland, where he had 25 touchdowns in three seasons.
“We had great chemistry,” Carr said. “We had good moments together on those red zone plays. We had hand signals. Just me looking at him; we were on a good page. That’s something you try to do with all your guys. We played for years together, so it doesn’t just come overnight. I think that every quarterback that has played with him will definitely say he has some of the best hands and is one of the most competitive and reliable people. I have nothing but good things to say.”